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The first boos were heard much earlier than the Giants would’ve liked and maybe even earlier than they could’ve expected, but there’s no doubt they were deserved. Just like they deserved the sight of fans streaming towards the exit, leaving them to play in a mostly empty stadium near the end.
The sight of the fleeing fan base was hard to miss, and you can be sure that nobody in the Giants’ organization missed it.
“I’m locked into the game, but you can’t help but see people lined up in the tunnels,” said Giants receiver Sterling Shepard. “It’s no fun seeing them.”
No it’s not. In fact, if there’s one thing sure to put co-owner John Mara over the edge it will be the sight of fans abandoning this franchise. And it sure was a terrible sign that on a day the fans had longed for, their first time back at the Meadowlands in nearly two years, the Giants team they love gave them reason to try and beat the traffic home.
They left because the Giants were basically non-competitive in a 27-13 loss to the Denver Broncos. Their offense was the same old, same old. Daniel Jones was again a master of efficiency until he coughed up the ball in a big spot. There were again no game-breaking weapons, even with Saquon Barkley back and Kenny Golladay in town with his $72 million contract. And this time, for good measure, the defense was awful, too.
Yes, it was one game – just one of 17 now – and it doesn’t mean the bandwagon will be empty after October. Except there’s this: The Broncos were 5-11 a year ago, making them one of the truly soft spots on the Giants schedule. If they were this bad against Denver, how are they going to be better at the Saints, at the Cowboys, or home against the Rams in October, or at the Chiefs or Buccaneers in November, or in Los Angeles against the Chargers in December?
The Giants schedule is brutal. And it’s going to be a real long season for their weary fan base if it turns out their team is brutal, too.
“We’ve got to earn the fans’ respect,” said Giants coach Joe Judge. “Point blank. These people come out here, they spend their hard-earned money, they sit in the seats, they give us energy from the seats. We have to give them something to cheer about. It’s not their job just to show up and cheer just to cheer, OK? That’s not their job. Their job is to be entertained.”
That’s exactly the right sentiment, and clearly Judge drilled that into his players before they spoke after the game. There won’t be any Mets-like, thumbs-down, mocking of the fans on his watch – not even if the fans are waving a different finger at them.
But words don’t matter. The fan base has been too beaten-down for too long, and this Giants team isn’t selling promise anyway. They aren’t the Jets, embarking on a rebuilding project where the fan base generally accepts it will take a few years. They are at the theoretical end of the rebuilding. Their fans have endured four straight years of double-digit losses while they’ve watched GM Dave Gettleman bring in a new coach, a new quarterback and a small army of supposedly promising young players. This is the year they’re all supposed to arrive.
And if they don’t, you can bet the fans will rightfully abandon this team in droves.
“These people pay their hard-earned money to come see winning football,” Shepard said. “That's what this franchise is all about, is winning. It’s what the history’s been all about. It's been frustrating the past few years and I understand their frustration. We’re not happy about it as well. We’ve got to dig our cleats in and we have to give the fans what they want.”
In many ways, it’s the only way any of them can guarantee survival into the 2022 season, because if they lose the fans – the die-hard fans who keep showing up, keep renewing their season tickets, despite a decade of mostly misery -- they’re going to lose Mara, and he is going to blow the franchise up in the offseason. That means a new GM, probably a new quarterback, and a coach who’ll suddenly be on a red-hot seat. And when a new GM comes in, half the roster is going to be tossed overboard as well.
Mara absolutely doesn’t want to do that. He genuinely likes the direction the Giants are headed. He likes Gettleman and the Gettleman-Judge pairing a lot more than most outsiders think. He will resist until the very end making the kind of franchise-altering changes that his critics insist are necessary.
But if fans are regularly heading towards the exits in the third quarter, if the stadium is mostly empty from Thanksgiving on … those are the kinds of things that may even make him not wait until the end of the season. The Giants tend to endure a lot of things in order to resist change. Historically, the one thing they refuse to endure is becoming irrelevant, an afterthought or a punchline to their fans.
So it’s good that they believe they can fix this mess – even the offense, which was ugly yet again. “I feel like we have it in us,” Shepard said. “I know we’re capable of it.”
“The fans showed up and brought a lot of energy, brought a lot of excitement,” said Jones, “and we've got to do a better job performing and playing well. We appreciate that and we're determined to get it right."
But it’s actions, not words, that will keep the fans in their seats and turn the boos and groans into cheers. Putting a better product on the field – far better than what they put on the field on Sunday – is the only thing that matters now.
“We have to give them something to stay for,” Judge added. “We have to give them something to cheer for. Our focus is to make sure the next time they come, they see a better product and they stay a full 60 minutes to watch it.”